You Are Not Alone Michael: Through a Brother’s Eyes (Touchstone/Simon & Schuster), Jermaine Jackson’s biography of his younger brother Michael Jackson, could have more to recommend it as informed reading about the immortal international star. In some respects, it isn’t a book one can take seriously. It is, however, tailor made for fans who take it on blind faith that Michael Jackson could do no wrong.
It also, quite likely, was ghost written. Jermaine Jackson’s talent is in the studio, singing, playing and producing. No one in the family has ever shown any writing ability (much less some of the vocabulary used here) and Michael himself actually proved to be, from letters in his handwriting printed in the media, functionally illiterate. Ultimately, if you take parts of it with a grain of salt, it is worthwhile.
You Are Not Alone Michael begins with a prologue, Jermaine’s cloying account of Michael making — rather being an hour late for — a court appearance for that business of whether he did or didn’t molest a young boy back in 2005. Jermaine equates the threatening to revoke his brother’s bail with persecuting him — hardly a rational perception.
Once the rest of the book gets started, we do find out what a stark picture there was of the Jackson family’s literal rags-to-riches scenario. The father, Joseph, for all that he was a heavy-handed brute in disciplining the kids, worked hard and, poor as Job’s mule, held his head up and taught his children to do the same.
Mother Katherine was, to say the least, frugal. She stretched every buck she and her husband brought home like it was a rubber band. Rather than go on welfare, they put the oldest boys, Tito and Jermaine, to work shoveling snow for neighbors. Some contrast to the wealth in which Michael would eventually live.
The Jackson 5’s ascent was anything but meteoric. Joe Jackson got behind his boys and pushed like a freight train. Relentlessly. To the point, sometimes, of cruelty — beating Marlon, for instance, for having trouble with dance routines. Incredibly enough, little Mike revolted, testing his father’s tyranny to the point of recklessness.
They all, of course, got to the limelight together. And once Berry Gordy entered the picture with Motown Records, there was no looking back.
There are 20 or so family photos and publicity shots from the Jackson 5 days in this book, but curiously, not so much as a glimpse of the girls, Janet and La Toya. There’s a passing reference to Janet’s acting in the sitcom Good Times but not much beyond that.
In the second two-thirds of the book, there are pages more of photos from Michael’s solo career, the sisters remain footnotes, and there’s a great deal of name-dropping as Jermaine fawns over the memory of his godlike brother who, from the sound of it, did not have feet of clay and was, in fact, faultless.
Readers who delight in pressing their faces against the glass of this enormously gifted performer’s life should race to the store and pull You Are Not Alone Michael: Through a Brother’s Eyes off the shelf. Those of us fascinated to know who he actually was are, at this point, out of luck.
Dwight Hobbes welcomes reader responses to P.O. Box 50357, Mpls., 55403.